By the Potencia correspondent

It’s a crisis waiting to happen. The rapid population growth and the relatively healthy economic conditions of the region have put pressure on Latin American nations to face up to a potential energy crisis as power demand grows.

In Uruguay, for example, increasing concern has been expressed. Ronald Beare, manager of forestry company UPM, said in a recent interview that if the population of the country kept growing at the current rate it could experience significant energy problems.

But the leader of UPM, a firm that occupies the second place in Europe in the generation of biomass, was careful not to say that nuclear energy should be used to fill the gap in supply. According to Beare, energy plants in the pipeline in Uruguay represent a total generation capacity of 1,600 MW which is the equivalent of about 90 per cent of the population’s needs.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Uruguay is also planning to spend about $3bn in the energy sector up to 2015, of which about 62 per cent will be invested in renewable energy projects.

Separately, some industrial sectors in Bolivia have expressed alarm saying the country risks serious rationing of electricity because its energy reserves are very low. The country’s reserve margin is only 4 per cent, which is more than half of the optimum 10 per cent. The National Committee of Energy Distribution has said it fears a collapse of the energy system.

Venezuela is another nation with a fragile energy system. The problems meeting energy demand are so grave that the authorities have announced power restrictions in an effort to stabilize the energy system, reports the Agence France Presse.

According to the new measures adopted by the government, the big energy consumers, which include shopping centres, industries and private companies, will have to reduce their consumption by 10 per cent each month. Likewise, those households that manage to reduce their consumption will receive significant discounts on their energy bills, the government said.

The Venezuelan electricity system requires an investment of about US$20.000 million in the next four years to save it from collapse, experts have calculated. According to the authorities, current power generation projects would help the country overcome its current energy crisis, but between 50-70 per cent of these projects are now delayed, which will make it hard for them to start operating in time.

Chile, in contrast, does not have an energy system near to collapse like Venezuela but it has experienced robust economic growth, which in return has increased energy consumption. To satisfy this greater demand, the country will need to triple its current generation capacity over the next 15 years.

In Costa Rica, the government is launching a contingency plan aimed at avoiding a loss of energy supply starting from 2014, La Nacion said. The plan explores the feasibility of increasing energy generation by about 400 MW in the next six years.

The country is also contemplating asking energy users to contribute a small amount towards the maintenance of the national energy system. Costa Rica is also exploring the feasibility of relying more heavily on renewable sources of energy. However, there is a delay of about two years in the implementation of projects, which could risk having shortages by 2018, the report added.

Argentina is also suffering a crisis of its own triggered in part by an overheated economy. Demand for energy has grown so fast recently that even oil supplies are running low, according to press reports.

Since 2005, Argentina has purchased in the region of 4.5 million air conditioning systems, while 2011 will see record sales of new cars, according to figures gathered by El Pais newspaper.

Previous studies and surveys in the region have highlighted Latin American’s awareness of a potential energy crisis. Many leaders have called for collective solutions to the issue. However, there have been inconsistencies when it comes to actually tackling the problem because many nations are unwilling to offer concessions when sharing their energy resources.